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Organ Donation FAQs

Who can become a donor?

Almost anyone can become a donor. Your medical condition at the time of death will determine what organs and tissues can be donated.

How can I register to become an organ donor?

Register here if you would like the words “Organ Donor” to appear on your license or state ID card.

Does it cost anything to donate tissues and organs?

There is no cost to the donor’s family or estate for organ and/or tissue donation.

What organs and tissues can I donate?

Life-saving organs for transplant include the heart, kidney, pancreas, lungs, liver and intestines. Tissues that can be donated include bones, ligaments, tendons, fascia, veins and nerves. Corneas, heart valves and skin may also be donated. Vascularized Composite Allografts (VCA) transplants including hand and face transplants have become available in recent years for people who have suffered a devastating injury.

Is there an age limit for donating organs?

There is no age limit for organ donation. Even people in their 80s and 90s have successfully donated organs and tissues. To date, the oldest donor in the U.S. was age 95.

Can I donate organs to a friend or loved one awaiting a transplant?

Yes. When you specify an individual to receive a donated organ or organs, you are participating in what is called directed or designated donation. This can be done for both deceased donation and living donation. In the case of living donation, if the living donor is not compatible with the designated recipient, a paired exchange could be possible. In all situations, the transplant team will assess the donation based on principles of ethics, equality, fairness and sound medical judgement.

How are recipients matched to donors?

Individuals waiting for transplants are listed by the transplant center in their area. Their name goes into a national waiting list maintained by the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS).

UNOS manages the national list to match donor organs with patients on the top of the waiting list. When donor organs become available, the organ procurement organization (OPO) such as Gift of Life provides UNOS with information about the medical characteristics of the donor and any transplantable organs. Waiting list patients in the OPO’s local region are given the first opportunity for the organs. If no one is a match there, the organs are offered to the region, and then nationally, if necessary.

What are the steps involved in organ and tissue donation?

This animated video explains the transplant waiting list, how to become a donor, the process of matching organs, and signing up to share the gift of life.

What medical conditions exclude a person from donating organs?

Only actively spreading cancer normally excludes a person from donating organs. Otherwise, the transplant team will determine what organs can be used at the time of death.

Historically, HIV would exclude one from organ donation, however, The HOPE Act, passed in 2013, allows certified transplant centers to transplant organs from an HIV + donor into HIV + recipients. In addition, transplants between donors and potential recipients with Hepatitis are also currently being performed. Ongoing advances with transplantation has increased the donor pool and allowed for more lives to be saved.

Why are there so many people on the transplant waiting list?

As advances in medicine increase, transplants become more successful and more people are added to the national waiting list. Unfortunately, the numbers of donors does not grow as quickly as the number of people who need organs and tissue.

Each day, 20 people in the United States die while waiting for organ transplants. Nationally, there are more than 100,000 people waiting for an organ transplant. Thousands more await life enhancing tissue transplants.

Source: Gift of Life. Still have questions about donation? Contact Gift of Life here.

FAQs–Liver Transplant

FAQs–Kidney Transplant

FAQs–Heart Transplant

FAQs–Lung Transplant

The Liver Transplant Process

Receiving a liver from a living donor

Because the liver can regenerate, it is possible to receive a portion of a liver from a living donor. This person may be a relative, spouse, friend or even a stranger. Enrolling in a liver donor program means a shorter transplant wait time for you, increasing your chance of a successful transplant. Learn more about living donor liver transplants.

Waiting for an organ

The United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) manages the waitlist for transplant recipients. UNOS matches organ donors and recipients throughout the Midwest and the country. Your transplant coordinator will place you on this list and contact you when a donor liver is available.

Factors affecting your liver transplant wait

The length of your wait for a donor liver depends on a number of factors, including your:

  • Health
  • Blood type
  • Body size
  • Model for end-stage liver disease (MELD) score. The MELD score, which ranges from 6 to 40, measures how severe a patient’s liver disease is, and estimates a patient’s chances of surviving their disease during the next three months. The higher the score, the sicker the patient. Livers from deceased donors are allocated to the sickest patients first. MELD scores are based on results from four blood tests that, together, show how well a patient’s body is functioning.Tests include:
    • INR (internal normalized ratio): Indicates whether the liver is making the proteins necessary for blood to clot
    • Creatinine: Indicates how well the kidneys are working
    • Bilirubin: Indicates how well the liver is clearing a substance called bile
    • Serum sodium: Indicates how well the body is regulating fluid balance

Receiving a liver transplant

  • After surgery, you recover in a specialized transplant recovery unit. This unit has filtered air to prevent infection and is staffed by a medical team with advanced training in transplant care.
  • The length of your hospital stay depends on the complexity of your surgery and your health.
  • While in the hospital, you meet with a specialized transplant pharmacist and start taking transplant medications. You need to take immunosuppressants for life to prevent your body from rejecting the donated liver.
  • After you leave the hospital, you may choose to receive follow-up care, including ongoing blood work and exams, at one of our convenient liver transplant clinics.

After Transplant (Recovery)

Days after transplant are spent in ICU until the patient is stable enough to move to a transplant recovery unit. More info here…


Find a Support Group

Transplant patients and their families can gain support from many different types of groups. As patients’ transplant experiences continue, they often gain confidence and reach out to others, in turn making lifelong friends, enjoying social activities, and finding opportunities to promote the need for organ and tissue donation. Search Groups By State >


Transplant Recovery Checklist

Going through an organ transplant and recovery is difficult. We are currently working on a checklist that includes items and tips that will make your hospital stay easier.